My road trips are usually serene. That’s because it is normally just me in my car listening to my favorite authors and readers. I am so used to mentally dropping into the stories coming from my automobile CD player that when traffic problems require me to check road status on radio news channels, or I’m accompanied by occasional passengers, like my husband or sisters — who don’t want to listen to that “talking” — I am irritated and maybe a little angry because my burning need to be constantly entertained is thwarted.
Here are a few suggestions for recent audio books that have held me enthralled on the road:
Actress Julia Whelan, who played teenager Grace Manning on the TV show Once and Again, narrates Nora Roberts’ latest romantic suspense book The Collector. Whelan has a soft and soothing voice that belies the fact that she does a very credible job portraying both male and female characters and various accents. The story involves teen werewolf book series author Lila Emerson, who has a “Rear Window–like” experience: She observes a murder take place through the window of an adjacent apartment building. As the only witness, she becomes a prime target of the murderer.
Artist Ash Archer, brother of the victim, engages Lila’s help, searching against the clock for the murderer. As they connect the dots between a Russian with claims to the Romanov dynasty, long-missing Faberge Imperial eggs, and an art deal gone bad, they also find the missing parts of themselves in their blossoming love relationship. She is a strong-willed army brat, independent and leery of allowing herself to become too attached to anyone. He is wealthy, emotional and domineering, in the sense that an artist’s prerogative is to do and create, and he’s not used to having anyone challenge or resist his presumptive ways. This suspenseful tale with the spritely conversations between Lila and Ash as they negotiate their way to love and finding a murderer provide for another winner by my personal favorite author, Nora Roberts.
I’m not crazy about books with lots of jumping back and forth in time, but Laura Lippman’s latest standalone novel, After I’m Gone, pulls it off. Reader Linda Emond’s clear, distinctive pronunciation of words and the varied character’s voices make these transitions easy to follow from the 1960s to the present. The story tracks the bewilderment and agony of the women left behind when gambler Felix Brewer goes on the lam before he can be sentenced to prison. Despite having promised always to take care of her, Felix leaves his wife Bambi with three girls to raise and no money. His young mistress Julie seems to have funds to start a bed and breakfast, but then she disappears, too. His daughters, each of whom carries different memories of their father in their hearts, struggle to understand their places in the world, each taking a very different path. This story holds its secrets close and the reader/listener keeps guessing.
Missing You is Harlan Coben’s latest book and the plot is a doozy. NYPD detective Kat Donovan hasn’t had a serious relationship since she was dumped unceremoniously by her fiancé 18 years earlier. When his picture shows up on an online dating site she is shocked. She never understood in her head or her heart what happened between them. So her police career has dominated her life. She is a shrewd, no-nonsense investigator, driven by curiosity and determination. She also probably drinks too much for her own good.
When she decides to reach out to the anonymous yet very familiar face online, disturbing details about her own past are slowly revealed. And as she is assigned to work on a series of missing persons cases that may have national implications, Kat begins to realize that there may be a connection between her life and the missing persons. Coben’s typical serendipitous plot twists keep Kat turning backward and forward in time, as she struggles to save others as well as her own piece of mind. January LaVoy is a new reader for me. Her voice is deep and gravelly and she communicates Kat’s no-nonsense attitude toward life and her job very well.
One of my favorite audio books this year, by far, is the Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. To my great satisfaction, this book was narrated partly by Jenna Lamia, whose distinctively youthful voice wonderfully read Kidd’s previous book, The Secret Life of Bees. In this story, Lamia shares the reading credits with Adepero Oduye. In alternate chapters, these talented readers bring to life, in first person, two very different girls living in antebellum South Carolina.
Sarah Grimke, daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, is given her own slave when she has her 11th birthday — a girl called Handful. Over the years of their youth and through their adulthood, these characters each struggle to achieve freedom. Handful rebels against the oppressive inhumane bonds of slavery while Sarah flails against the Southern patriarchal system that keeps her from becoming a lawyer like her father and brother. Sarah is a voracious reader who secretly steals adult treatises on law and history and she teaches Handful to read, against the dictates of the State and her family. Sarah’s need for independent thought and opinion sets her into adulthood choosing to live in the North, where she finds like-minded women at the early years of the women’s suffrage movement in America.
Handful, by contrast, must remain with the Grimkes, taking over her mother’s role as family seamstress. Handful increasingly takes risks by participating in a pre-Civil War slave uprisings. Sarah eschews love and marriage in favor of speaking out with the abolitionists and for women’s rights. Reader Lamia conveys Sarah’s conviction to find her own voice. By contrast reader Oduye brilliantly portrays Handful’s strength of character and resolve. Author Kidd successfully interweaves the challenges, determination and joys and sorrows each woman encounters both together and apart in this gripping tale based on true lives.
Who are your favorite audio book narrators? What great reads have you been taking on the road lately? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.